Tag Archives: Brexit

Troubles & Trimble return to Northern Ireland

The 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (April 10, 1998) arrives with a surge of violence in Northern Ireland. Though not a 10-year or quarter-century mark that would normally draw attention, events of the past week make this post as unavoidable as the media coverage from Belfast.

As The Washington Post reported, the violence has been “triggered in part by pro-British Protestant unionists who fear that their home is drifting away from Britain in the new realities of a post-Brexit world.” Then, “hundreds of Irish nationalist and unionist demonstrators began to face off, a worrying escalation that stirred old memories of the 30 years of sectarian violence known as the Troubles, which led to the deaths of 3,500 civilians, British security personnel and paramilitary members.”

David Trimble, left, and the late John Hume after winning the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize. Irish Times photo.

One early opinion piece about the latest round of troubles comes from David Trimble, the former unionist leader, who shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with the late nationalist John Hume for their work leading to the Good Friday Agreement. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Trimble says the GFA:

protected the union and put the future of Northern Ireland in the hands of its people. Voters put their trust in my assurances and supported the agreement. Now this promise of self-determination is under threat due to the Northern Ireland protocol …

The protocol doesn’t safeguard the Good Friday Agreement. It demolishes the agreement’s central premise by removing the assurance that democratic consent is required to change Northern Ireland’s status. That is why I feel betrayed personally by the protocol; it is also why the unionists in Northern Ireland are so incensed at its imposition.

Unsurprisingly, Trimble’s piece is pocked by selective memory and self-promotion.

  • He spits about the terrorism of Irish republicans but ignores the murders and other violence committed by Northern Ireland’s loyalist mobs in collusion with British police and military officers.
  • He avoids mentioning that that majority of people of Northern Ireland voted against Brexit … they wanted to remain in the EU … but got drag in by the conservative xenophobes of the English Midlands.
  • He neglects to say that PM Boris Johnson and the British government that he and other unionists are so attached to (along with the monarchy) negotiated and agreed to this protocol.
  • Finally, he willfully ignores the fact that Johnson and many MPs in Parliament would be happy to jettison the six counties of the North, which are a drag on the British treasury.

Trimble should work to facilitate the smooth reunification of Ireland, which would eliminate all the trade barriers he ostensibly worries about. More importantly, it would help bring about the healing of the now 100-year-old division of the island of Ireland. This ultimately would be more in line with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

I’m not saying this would be easy. But it is the best solution for the future.

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

Two of the blog’s sharp-eyed email subscribers, both journalists, tipped me on two of the stories in this month’s roundup, which includes news about an old building in New York City, and a new building in Cork city. Enjoy. MH

  • For the second year, St. Patrick’s Day parades and related events were either cancelled, downsized, or made virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. About 6,800 people have died in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland since the pandemic began a year ago.
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James has agreed to review the proposed sale of the American Irish Historical Society building in Manhattan. The 1901 Gilded Age mansion has been the society’s home for 80 years. The Irish government, which has given nearly $1 million to the society since 2008, has decried the proposed sale, and dozens of prominent artists and business leaders have joined nearly 30,000 others in petitioning James to step in. (Thanks Gary S.)

American Irish Historical Society at 991 Fifth Avenue. Photo: Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK.

  • Marty Walsh, the Irish-American mayor of Boston since 2014, was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Biden administration. His parents were 1950s emigrants of County Galway.
  • Vicki Kennedy, widow of the late U.S. Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy (D-Mass.), is said to be on President Joe Biden’s short list for U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. Others include Chicago lawyer John Cooney, New York civil rights lawyer Brian O’Dwyer, former Ireland Fund Chairman John FitzPatrick,  Massachusetts state rep Clare Cronin, and former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tommy O’Neill, son of former House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, according to IrishCentral.
  • Former U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, a Biden ally earlier believed to be in line for the ambassador’s post, instead joined the Irish executive consultancy and lobbying firm Teneo as a senior adviser.
  • Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement is under threat and a “Pandora’s box” of protest and political crisis will be opened unless the European Union agrees to significant changes in the Brexit deal with the United Kingdom, Reuters reported. At issue is a dispute over the implementation of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol in the Irish Sea, which is designed to prevent a hard land border with the Irish Republic. Militant unionists in the north complain the arrangement segregates them from the rest of the U.K..
  • The Journal.ie attempted to answer, “How would a united Ireland do economically?
  • The Republic announced “Our Rural Future, 2021-2025” plan, which calls for 20 percent of government employees to work remotely  or mixed city center and rural locations by December, with further decentralization in following years.
  • Old Ireland in Colour, a collection of 170 black and white photos colorized through a combination of cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology and old fashioned historical research, has been enjoying huge sales since its 2020 release. CNN and the Daily Mail published the latest features. (Thanks Bill T.)
  • Pope Francis elevated to International Marian and Eucharistic Shrine status the church and grounds at Knock, County Mayo, site of an 1879 apparition.
  • Technology firm Intel announced it will create 1,600 permanent high-tech jobs at its Leixlip campus in County Kildare.
  • Cork city officials and business leaders have applauded the decision by An Bord Pleanála, Ireland’s national planning review board, to grant permission for a 34-story hotel and commercial tower on the site of the former Port of Cork. It would become Ireland’s tallest building. An Taisce, Ireland’s national historic trust, complained it will create “enormous change in the character of the city’s skyline.”

Artist rending of Cork city tower.

Irish Americans back united Ireland with ad buy

I don’t usually pay much attention to advertisements as I scan the headlines and top paragraphs of The Washington Post, the day’s first pot of coffee percolating near the left edge of the newspaper spread on my kitchen counter. The half-page ad on A5–my second page turn–caught my attention: A United Ireland: Let The People Have Their Say.

Friends of Sinn Féin USA and five other Irish-American groups paid for the black and white ads in the March 10 issues of the Post and The New York Times a week before St. Patrick’s Day focuses on relations between the two countries. Full-page with spot color versions of the ads appear in the Irish Voice and Irish Echo newspapers. The ad says, in part:

A new Ireland is emerging, and more and more people are looking beyond the divisions of the past. A new Ireland is seeking to undo the damage of the undemocratic partition of Ireland 100 years ago and the recent British government imposed Brexit.

“Britain’s exit”, or Brexit, was decided by a 2016 referendum. Voters in the six counties of Northern Ireland opposed leaving the European Union. The British and E.U. governments, including the Republic of Ireland, spent years hammering out the details of the departure.

Earlier this month, the Post published a Bloomberg business analysis that said while a united Ireland is “unlikely anytime soon … the fact that the possibility is being openly discussed again is testament to the forces unleashed by Brexit.”

We’ve been hearing this since 2016. Nearly two years ago to the day, Times columnist Timothy Egan, also citing Brexit, wrote: “From the depths of British bungling, hubris and incompetence is emerging a St. Patrick’s Day miracle: the real chance of a united Ireland.”

Let’s see what happens by St. Patrick’s Day, 2022.

When ‘northern’ Ireland became ‘Northern’ Ireland

On Jan. 5, 1921, The New York Times published an Associated Press dispatch from London, which began:

Ulstermen are preparing to make the opening of the Parliament for Northern Ireland as picturesque and imposing as possible, endeavoring to obtain the consent of the King to open the first session in person, or to have the Prince of Wales do so if the King is unable to be present, says the London Times.

Daily papers in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in America and Canada printed the same report, with two small but significant differences to the sentence: a lowercase k in king and n in northern. These papers followed AP style rules, which only capitalize “king” or “queen” when used before a proper name: King George V.1

Using a capital K to refer to the monarch without his name was a New York Times’ style preference, a sign of deference to the title, one that probably reinforced the opinions of the paper’s Irish-American critics. The Times, many said, was anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, and a “proponent of dead and gone imperialism.”2

The copy editing decisions about Northern Ireland or northern Ireland were trickier. In January 1921, it became simultaneously a new political place in addition to an ancient geographic location.

Names & Places

Northern Ireland in bright orange, rest of Ireland uncolored. United Kingdom, including England, Scotland, and Wales, at right in light orange. (Alpha History map.)

King George gave “royal assent” to the Government of Ireland Act 1920 less than two weeks earlier, just days before Christmas. The legislation had slogged through Parliament since before the Great War began in 1914. What started as a “home rule” bill to provide domestic autonomy for all of Ireland now engineered the island’s post-war partition.

Under the new law, “Northern Ireland” consisted of the parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, and the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry. The rest of the island became “Southern Ireland”, including the remaining three counties in the province of Ulster: Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan.

The law allowed northern Protestants to manage their domestic affairs without having to share home rule with southern Catholics. The new names had begun to appear in 1920 U.S. press reports. Both Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland would remain part of what was then called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Republican Opposition

Since December 1918, however, Irish separatists had won elections and fought a guerrilla war to secure a republican government independent of London. They were not about to accept a home rule parliament still tied to the crown. In April 1921, the National Catholic Welfare Council (predecessor of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) News Service reported:

Election under the partition act are, according to arrangements made by the British government, to take place on May 3rd next in “Southern Ireland” and “Northern Ireland.” So detested is partition by the majority that the refusal of the people of four-fifths of the country to work the act is a certainty.3

The Southern Ireland parliament was never formed. The war of independence continued through December 1921, when a treaty resulted in the creation of the Irish Free State. It was not yet a republic, but it was more independent than Northern Ireland. In 1930, Irish immigrants in America for more than a decade would answer the U.S. Census “Place of Birth” question with political names they had never used before leaving.

King George V did attend the June 1921 opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament at the Belfast City Hall, a “picturesque and imposing” Baroque Revival building opened 15 years earlier. In his speech, the king hoped the arrangement would be temporary and appealed for eventual reconciliation, “a day in which the Irish people, North and South, under one parliament or two, as those parliaments may themselves decide, shall work together in common love for Ireland upon the sure foundations of mutual justice and respect.”4

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921.

Centenary & Brexit

Ireland has remained divided for 100 years. Tensions between Northern Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants in the late 1960s erupted into the three decades of sectarian violence known as The Troubles. This year’s Northern Ireland centenary and simultaneous departure of the United Kingdom (which includes Northern Ireland, but not the southern Republic) from the European Union has put fresh attention on the Irish border.

By placing a new customs border in the Irish Sea rather than the 300 mile land line with the Republic, Brexit has turned Northern Ireland into “a place apart.” In essence, Northern Ireland has been partitioned from the rest of the U.K. Staunch unionists say they are “much better off in the United Kingdom than they are within the Republic of Ireland or within a European superstate,” Reuters reports.

Some Irish nationalist politicians and other Irish island proponents, refusing to acknowledge the century-old political state of Northern Ireland, refer to the place as “The North,” “The north of Ireland,” or the “Six Counties.” They sense an opportunity to press the case for reunification, though a referendum to undo partition appears a few years away, at the soonest. And there is no guarantee it would pass on both sides of the border, as required by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement … or imagined by King George V during his 1921 speech in the new Northern Ireland.

I’ll have more posts on these historic and contemporary topics throughout the year.

Happy New Year 2021; remembering 1921

Happy New Year. Let’s hope that by the second half of it we are on our way to a post-pandemic world. I wish health and peace to all of my email subscribers, other regular readers, and new visitors in 2021.

Journalism & history

This will be the third year of my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. Subjects will include Irish relations under new U.S. President Warren G. Harding, American relief efforts in Ireland, May 1921 partition of the island, July 1921 truce, and December 1921 treaty.

I will continue to explore coverage of these events in Irish-American newspapers such as The Gaelic American, New York; The Irish Press, Philadelphia; Kentucky Irish American, Louisville; and the News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, based in Washington, D.C. In addition to other mainstream press, this year I also will delve into 1921 reporting in the Marion Daily Star. President Harding owned and edited the Ohio daily (except Sundays). The north-central Ohio community was not a hub of Irish immigrants and their offspring, but rapidly unfolding developments from Ireland were front page news nearly every issue.

In the spirit of this centenary series, here is an excerpt from a Jan. 1, 1921, story in The Irish Press:

Recorder Of News Was Honored In Old Ireland

Ever since the ancient days men who gathered and recorded news faithfully have been accorded the highest honor, whilst those who spread false reports have been ruthlessly punished by their fellow countrymen. … The poet of the ancient days in Ireland was the substitute of the modern newspaper reporter. It was the poet who got out the ‘extra’ containing the latest war news, the poet who recorded the deeds of valor and athletic prowess, the poet who recounted the social events of his day. He was the voice of the people and, if as such, he abused his high privilege, then an outraged people poured vials of its wrath upon his head.

The evolution of the newspaper, from the days of the scribes to the present day, is a story full of strange romance. … The files of old newspapers are the most valuable history books that any nation could give to its children. The historian is, after all, only a dealer in second-hand news. … In the years to come, when the present war in Ireland shall have passed into history, when the Republic of Ireland shall have become free, strong and prosperous, students of Irish history in America will regard the back volumes of the Irish Press, published during Ireland’s dark days, as the most reliable and valuable history obtainable.

To be clear, with its direct ties to the separatist government in Dublin, the Irish Press is a highly biased source. The story above was part of a campaign to boost the paper’s circulation and subscriptions. The effort failed. The weekly folded in the middle of 1922, ending a four-year publishing run.

December news roundup

Here are a few contemporary stories from December that you may have missed:

  • “There is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland, but… I believe the agreement reached today is the least bad version of Brexit possible, given current circumstances,” Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin said after the Christmas Eve announcement of a deal between the U.K. and E.U.
  • Pope Francis appointed Bishop Dermot Farrell of Ossory as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s successor in the archdiocese of Dublin, the largest Catholic diocese in the country. The formal installation is Feb. 2.
  • The United Nations ranked Ireland tied for second in the world in quality of life in its annual Human Development Report. It shares the honor with Switzerland. Norway topped the list of 189 countries. The top 20 includes Germany (6), Sweden (7), Australia (8), Denmark (10), the United Kingdom (13), and the United States (17).
  • The BBC’s “Future Planet” series featured a story on “How Ireland is abandoning its dirty fuel“, the island’s distinctively-smelling peat, or turf.
  • “I believe we can be the generation that achieves a United Ireland,” former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams wrote Dec. 18 in Newsweek.I also believe that this generation of Irish Americans can be the first to return to a new and united Ireland, knowing that they helped achieve it.”

Record site traffic

This site had record traffic in 2020, whether driven by COVID-19 quarantine, quality Irish history content, or both factors. Full year traffic increased 118 percent over the previous three-year average. We’ve had 13 consecutive months of record monthly traffic since December 2019. Our daily visitor average more than doubled. Thank you. MH

On the Antrim coast, July 2019.

When hope and history rhymed in Ireland, 1995

There’s been plenty of talk lately about how Irish-American Joe Biden as U.S. president might influence the impact of Brexit on both sides of the Irish border. Twenty-five years ago, another U.S. president loomed large in Irish affairs and helped set the stage for the Good Friday peace agreement.

Bill Clinton became the first American leader to set foot in Northern Ireland, Nov. 30, 1995, followed by stops in the Republic of Ireland. He quoted Irish poet Seamus Heaney long before Biden:

I could not say it better than your Nobel Prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney, has said: We are living in a moment when hope and history rhyme. In Dublin, if there is peace in Northern Ireland, it is your victory, too. And I ask all of you to think about the next steps we must take.1

It took until April 1998 to reach the peace agreement, approved the following month by voter referendums on both sides of the border. The accord became effective in December 1999.

In Derry, Clinton shared the stage with John Hume, who would became co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble for their work on the Good Friday Agreement. Hume died in August. “I’ll never forget our night in Derry in 1995, with the town square and blocks around full of hopeful faces,” Clinton said in his official statement this summer.

Clinton and Hume in 1995.

At Mackie’s, a west Belfast textile factory, nine-year-old Catherine Hamill “stole the show” with her introduction of Clinton, Brian Rohan recalled in a 1996 story, recently republished in Irish America magazine.

“My first daddy died in the Troubles,” Hamill said. “It was the saddest day of my life. Now it is nice and peaceful. I like having peace and quiet for a change instead of people shooting and killing. My Christmas wish is that peace and love will last in Ireland forever.”

John D. Feerick also notes the “moving” introduction by the Catholic girl, joined by a Protestant boy, in his memoir, That Further Shore, published this year. The former Fordham Law School dean joined the U.S. delegation.

Clinton’s “speech of hope and promise for Northern Ireland challenged both communities to embrace peace and and open the door for greater economic development in the North and the employment that would follow,” Feerick writes in a five-page passage about the Ireland trip.2

Two weeks after Clinton turned on the Christmas tree lights in Belfast, Britain’s Daily Mail, Virgin Airways, and the Fitzpatrick Hotel chain flew Hamill and her family to America to be among Clinton’s invited guests at the tree-lighting ceremony at the White House. It was truly a season when hope and history rhymed.

Catching up with modern Ireland: September

The extraordinary year 2020 is three quarters done. On the island of Ireland two big questions hang over the remaining quarter: can the COVID-19 pandemic be managed and contained without too large an increase of infections and deaths; and can Britain and the E.U. agree a final Brexit trade deal? The monthy roundup picks from there:

  • The Republic of Ireland postponed the scheduled April 2021 Census until April 2022 because of the pandemic and to ensure the decenial count “achieves the highest possible response rate, across all facets of Irish society,” Central Statistics Office Director General Pádraig Dalton said.
  • The pandemic has relieved Dublin’s housing crunch that in recent years sent rents skyrocketing and left many people struggling to afford, or find, a place to live, The New York Times reported. How so? Denied tourists and business visitors, short-term Airbnb rentals have been returned to the market.
  • U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland Mick Mulvaney said the American government is “confident the EU and UK will be able to work this [trade deal] out in a way that’s acceptable to everybody.”
  • Ireland’s 3 billion euro ($3.5 billion) plan to connect rural areas to high-speed broadband is proceeding quicker than expected, according to David McCourt, chairman of National Broadband Ireland (NBI), the vehicle created by U.S. media and telecoms investment firm Granahan McCourt. He told CNBC that despite some hurdles in the early days of the coronavirus lockdown, the project could be completed in about seven years, under the originally slated 10 years. See my earlier post: Ireland’s broadband push recalls rural electrification effort.
  • As more of the world’s leading tech companies expand their operations in Ireland, the county is being forced to choose between its climate ambitions and investment from these giant firms, OilPrice.com reported. Massive data centers are great for the nation’s finances, but wearing on its energy infrastructure and increasing its carbon footprint.
  • Wild salmon returns have improved, likely due to an easier run for the fish into Ireland’s rivers during the COVID-19 lockdown, SeafoodSource says. But The Guardian carried a troubling report about how urban wastewater and nutrient runoff are polluting Ireland’s waterways.
  • Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden referenced his “Irish Catholic” roots during the Sept. 29 debate with President Donald Trump. The Irish Times described the televised confrontation as “shouting, interruptions and often incoherent cross talk.”

History News:

  • Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut received a $10,000 grant coronavirus relief grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities. It will be used to defray financial losses incurred during the museum’s extended closure during the pandemic.
  • The 100-mile (165K) National Famine Way hike/bike/history trail from Strokestown, Co Roscommon, to Dublin, opened after a decade of development. It follows the route of 1,490 tenants evicted from the Strokestown estate of Major Denis Mahon in 1847 and forced to walk to the “coffin ships” that would take them from Ireland to America and Canada.
  • The Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland has decided to bring charges against no more than one of 15 soldiers involved in the 1972 “Bloody Sunday” civil rights demonstrations in Derry, the BBC reports. Thirteen were killed and 15 wounded when troops opened fire on demonstrators.

The old man and the clock:

  • This photo of an old man enjoying his pint in a Galway pub captured international media attention. He apparantely didn’t have a watch or smart phone to avoid overstaying the 90-minute limit imposed by Ireland’s COVID-19 restrictions, so he brought a bedside alarm clock. 

John Joe Quinn at McGinn’s Hop House in Galway city. Photo, Fergus McGinn.

Brexit and the Irish-American vote

In 1920, many Irish-American voters were focused on their homeland’s struggle for independence from Britain. It was hardly the biggest issue of the campaign, dominated by domestic economic and social concerns in America’s first post-World War I election. U.S. Sen. Warren Harding, an Ohio Republican, defeated the state’s Democratic Gov. James M. Cox.

In 2020, Irish-American voters with relations, friends, or business interests on either side of the Irish border are watching Britain’s departure from the European Union, the so-called Brexit. British officials recently suggested they might break an earlier trade deal regarding the Irish border. As National Review explains:

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with a member of the EU — the Irish Republic. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which put an end to the decades-long civil conflict in the province between Protestant unionists and Catholic secessionists (That’s NR’s word, I’d say nationalists.), established an open border on the island of Ireland so that people and goods could travel seamlessly between North and South. This was a rather easy measure to implement because both the UK and the Republic of Ireland were in the EU at the time, and so they were bound by the same customs and market regulations.

The sticking point in the exit negotiations between the British and EU delegations was how to maintain an open border in Ireland once the UK had left the EU regulatory framework. Differing regulations and standards between the two countries could, without any physical border infrastructure, lead to rampant smuggling and undermine the internal integrity of the EU market. But all sides balked at the idea of putting up a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic given the violent history and still-volatile politics surrounding the constitutional question.

Now, as The Washington Post reported, “relations between Europe and Britain have grown shouty.” American politicians want to be heard, too.

The border on Killeen School Road County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Oliver Dixon

“If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress,” U.S House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. Former Vice President Joe Biden, this year’s Democratic presidential nominee, issued  a similar Sept. 16 tweet:  “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

President Donald Trump’s special envoy to Northern Ireland weighed in a few days later:

“Everyone assures me that no one is interested in seeing a hard border between the republic and Northern Ireland,” Mick Mulvaney said in an interview with the Financial Times. “We appreciate that, we respect that and we agree with that. The one thing I keep trying to assure is on the front of everybody’s mind is avoiding a border by accident. The Trump administration, state department and the U.S Congress would all be aligned in the desire to see the Good Friday agreement preserved to see the lack of a border maintained.”

Still, Brexit is hardly the top of mind issue for Irish-American voters, or any segment of the American electorate. With early voting underway in several states, the 2020 campaign is a referendum on Trump’s overall behavior, his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, and now a fierce fight over filling, or waiting to fill, a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.

Which helps illustrate another point:

“The Irish vote has become not, unfortunately, the lockup of the Democratic Party,” Brian O’Dwyer, vice president of the Irish American Democrats, told The New York Times in May. “But it is one of the few swing votes, along with the Catholic vote, left in the United States, and you can see various patterns back and forth where the Irish in particular have gone one way or another.”

Or as a columnist Tom Deignan wrote in August in Irish America magazine, “2020 may finally be the year we recognize the many shades of green out there amidst the red and blue of politically-polarized America.”

Also see:

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

This month’s round up leads with two deaths, one on each side of the Atlantic, both connected to Northern Ireland: 1998 Nobel Prize-winning Irish politician John Hume, 83, of Derry, who helped forge the Good Friday Agreement; and journalist and author Pete Hamill, 85, the Brooklyn-born son of Belfast Catholic immigrants.

Hume

“Hume combined moral clarity against violence and strategic vision for what peace might entail with a politician’s embrace of life’s complexities, the need to compromise and to take risks, to find where power lies and to exploit it,” Tom McTague wrote in The Atlantic. “Hume was supremely successful in this effort, whether you agree with the ends he pursued or the tactics he deployed to achieve them; he was not a saint, but a man who made judgments that are not beyond reproach. He abhorred violence, but brought Sinn Fein’s leaders (who did not) to the top table of Northern Irish politics. In seeking out giants, we are too quick to seek out perfection, when no such thing exists. Hume’s legacy lies in the compromises he championed and the complexities he recognized.

***

Hamill

“Hamill was among the last symbols of a bygone era, when idiosyncratic newspaper columnists like Mike Royko in Chicago and Jimmy Breslin in New York were celebrities in the cities they covered,” Harrison Smith wrote in the Washington Post. “He was in the vanguard of the New Journalism movement, when writers such as Joan Didion, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and Breslin applied the traditional tools of literary fiction to works of reporting, often while writing about ordinary people who usually never made headlines.”

***

Also in August:

  • The Irish Examiner was first to report that more than 80 people attended an Irish golf society event in Clifden, County Galway, breaching COVID-19 restrictions in spirit, if not in fact. Three Irish politicians have resigned their posts. The scandal is emblematic of larger problems in the three-party coalition cobbled together four months after Irish elections, the Examiner’s Gerald Howlin wrote under the headline, “Golfgate shows the government has the wrong clubs in the bag“.
  • In the Republic of Ireland, 1,777 people died of coronavirus as of Aug. 30, and 142 new cases at month’s end caused health officials to warn of a second national lock down, The Irish Times reported. At least 871 people have died from COVID-19 in Northern Ireland through Aug. 21.
  • The North’s top tourist attraction reopened Aug. 1 with safety measures to cope with the ongoing pandemic. “But it could be months, possibly years, before Titanic Belfast is anywhere near back to delivering the sort of economic statistics which has earned it international plaudits,” The Irish News reported.
  • Next to the museum, Harland & Wolff has benefited from ferry and cruise ship firms using the famous shipyard’s dry docks to carry out maintenance during the pandemic shutdown. The firm is still fighting for its long-term financial survival.
  • One more from the North: “No United Ireland. Not Now. Not Ever,” says Briefings For Britain, which insists “the impact of Brexit on Irish unity remains unclear.” … U.K. and E.U. negotiators are still trying to reach a trade agreement before the Dec. 31 end of the Brexit transition period.  
  • Fitch Ratings affirmed an A+ Stable Outlook for the Republic, factoring the uncertainties of the pandemic, Brexit, and the coalition government.
  • The Republic’s population is on the threshold of 5 million, reaching an estimated 4.98 million as of April, according to the Central Statistics Office. Total population on the island of Ireland, including the North, reached 5.1 million in 2016, exceeding the 1851 post-Famine census total for the first time.

A road on Inisheer, August 2019.

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

The main news from Ireland in June was the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and approval of a new coalition government. From the Associated Press and other media reports:

Centrist politician Micheál Martin became Ireland’s new prime minister on June 27, fusing two longtime rival parties into a coalition four months after an election that upended the status quo.

The deal will see Martin’s Fianna Fail govern with Fine Gael — the party of outgoing leader Leo Varadkar —and with the smaller Green Party. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, bitter opponents whose roots lie in opposing sides of the 1920s civil war that followed Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom, have never before formed a government together.

Ireland’s new taoiseach, @MichealMartinTD

Under the plan approved by the three parties’ memberships, Martin is taoiseach, or prime minister until the end of 2022. He then hands the job back to his predecessor, Varadkar, who has won high praise for steering the country through the COVID-19 crisis. Until then, Varadkar will serve as deputy prime minister and minister for enterprise, trade and employment.

The historic coalition pushed aside leftist Sinn Fein, which did better than expected in the February election, but failed to run candidates in all constituencies and could not attract coalition partners. It becomes Ireland’s main opposition party.

Fianna Fail holds 38 seats in the 160-seat Dáil Éireann, the principal chamber of the Irish legislature. Sinn Fein has 37 seats; Fine Gael has 35, and Greens have 12 seats. The balance are other small parties and independents.

Other headlines from June:

    • Jean Kennedy Smith, a Kennedy clan sister who as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in the 1990s helped pave the way for the Good Friday Agreement, died at 92. “The Irish people were willing to take me at face value, to give me the benefit of the doubt because I was a Kennedy,” she said in 1998.
    • Statues are being toppled around the world as protesters rise up against racism and other forms of oppression. TheJournal.ie offered a round up of statues and monuments already removed from Irish streetscapes (Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin), and those that could soon disappear (Columbus in Galway).
    • In a Washington Post op-ed, former Seattle police chief and Boston police commissioner Kathleen O’Toole, and Robert Peirce, an international policing consultant and former diplomat, wrote about their efforts to transform the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
    • A post-Brexit opinion poll found the U.K. departure from the E.U. has squeezed the political middle in Northern Ireland and pushed more people into unionist and nationalist trenches, The Guardian reported.
    • Bloomberg profiled notorious businessman Sean Quinn.
    • Ireland was elected to the United Nations Security Council. Mexico, India, and Norway also were selected for the same two-year terms on the 15-member panel.
    • The false widow spider, an invasive species first spotted in Ireland in 1998, has been multiplying quickly and is more venomous than first assumed, researchers at NUI Galway have found.
    • All in the family: New analysis of ancient human DNA from Newgrange, the Stone Age tomb mounds in the Boyne River valley, reveals a first-degree incestuous union, either between parent and child, or brother and sister. The finding, combined with other genetic and archaeological evidence, suggests that the people who built the mounds 5,000 years ago lived in a hierarchical society with a ruling elite.

Entrance at Newgrange, July 2019.